The following texts come from the Dunhuang manuscripts. All of them survive in manuscript form from a relatively narrow period of time frame, i.e. the second half of the 9th and the whole 10th century. The documents are related to she 社 associations, that is, local societies formed by lay groups of people in Dunhuang. There are several types of documents, and here I have chosen a sample from each of the main categories. By far the most numerous among them are the circulars (shesi zhuantie 社司轉帖) sent out by the headquarters of the association, inviting members to a meeting to celebrate the new year or to discuss a specific affair. Then there are also bylaws (shetiao 社條) which record the rules of a particular association. In addition, there are various applications and notices related to the operation of associations, and we will also look at samples of these. The texts in many cases represent the original documents created in the course of managing the associations, yet some of them seem to be duplicates copied for the sake of writing practice. Obviously, when using the documents for historical research, it is important to distinguish between originals and copies and thus we should be able to identify both of these in the manuscripts.
The associations in Dunhuang were governed by the Three Officers (sanguan 三官), i.e. the President (shezhang 社長), the Manager (sheguan 社官) and the Secretary (lushi 錄事). In some cases an officer bearing the title Elder (shelao 社老) is also identified. As far as we know, the she in Dunhuang did not have names. Even if they had a charter that laid down the rules and principles of association, and thus made the she function as a legal entity, they seemed to have no names to distinguish them from other she. The circulars dispatched by the management were only sent to members of that particular she and thus there was no need to specify which association was meant—perhaps it was the list of recipients that identified the she. Instead, the circulars from Dunhuang often indicate the type of people who joined into a she (e.g. irrigation channel managers) and thus distinguish the different types of associations.
In many cases the documents are followed by the list of members of the association, typically 10–20 individuals but in some cases fifty or even more. Far from being a dry list attached to a document, the names in themselves are very interesting as they may provide information about the ethnicity or age of members, or their relationship to each other.
The first text is an application for withdrawing from an association; the second and third are samples of circulars sent out to members; and the fourth is a document renewing the bylaws of a female association. Finally the fifth document is an adoption contract which is not directly related to the she associations but is a good example for the types of documents used by inhabitants of Dunhuang in their daily life.
Punctuation is added here for the sake of convenience, although the originals are obviously unpunctuated. Simplified and other non-standard character variants have been changed to their standard forms. Each text presented here comes from a specific manuscript, images of which can be easily accessed using their pressmark through the IDP (http://idp.bl.uk) and Gallica (http://gallica.bnf.fr) websites.
1. Application for withdrawal from an association (S.5698; The British Library)
2. Accociation circular (S.1453; The British Library)
社官梁再晟 社長張弁々 張犬兒 梁狗々 鄧贊□
王再晟 王和奴 王像奴 安伯﹙福﹖﹚忠 陳興晟
3. Association circular (Pt.1102)
社官 杜閻子 杜倫子 杜安子 段昇子 李德子
杜□□ 杜應兒 曹茍茍 杜像奴 杜再晟
常黑子 常君子 段小達 杜家阿婆
4. Bylaws of a female association (S.527; The British Library)
一、社內正月建福一日，人各稅粟壹斗、燈油壹盞，脫塔印砂，一則報 君王恩泰， 二乃以父母作福。或有社內，不諫(揀)大小，無格在席上喧拳，不聽上人言教者，便仰眾社，就門罰醴膩一筵，眾社破用。若要出社之者，各人決杖三棒，後罰醴局席一筵，的無免者。社人名目請實如後﹕
5. Adoption contract (Дx.12012; Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, St. Petersburg)
敦煌鄉百姓何保圓男進成，年七歲。時清泰貳年乙未歲正月壹日，舅姓張富深為先因福少，種果不圓，感得孤獨一身，全無影背。小時自家懇苦，衣食隨時，忽至病疾，老頭甚處，得人侍養。所以尋私空本，情意不安。五親商量，養外孫進成為男，張富深更無貳意。應有莊田、屋舍、家資活具，一物已上，分付養男。汝從已後，恭謹六親，溫和隣里，上交下接，莫失儒風，懇苦力田，懃耕考夜，緊把基本，就上加添。省湎非行，只是報吾心願，不許閑人構扇，腹心異意[… text deleted from manuscript…]